What it’s like at Pedal for Scotland

The annual Pedal for Scotland bike ride sees thousands of people cycling between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It’s popular with novices as well as more experienced riders – partly because some of the route is on closed roads.

I did Pedal for Scotland in 2014 after putting it off for a few years. I’d had a bad experience on a previous Glasgow-Edinburgh cycle (my rash ride to Pedal on Parliament). I was always aware of Pedal for Scotland as it goes through my area in the East End of Glasgow (traffic signs go up in the weeks before it). I might have done it earlier if I’d known a bit more about it. There’s a PfS Frequently Asked Questions page but I thought I’d do my own summary in case it helps anyone else.

Registering

You’re meant to register beforehand so you receive your pack in advance, but you can pick it up at the event. As well as the usual details, you have to choose a route and a start time. Most people are there for the ‘Classic challenge’ 40+ mile ride to Edinburgh. However, the very fit can pick the ‘Big belter’ 90+ mile ride with steep hills, etc. Watch what you click if you’re not up for that!

If you want to ride with people as a group then you should all pick the same time slot. I managed to pick a later time than the group I went with (from Go Bike).

What to bring

Yourself, a working bike and a few layers of clothing (including a waterproof). Food and drink is provided on the route. I don’t travel all that light – I always take my wallet, phone and some bike stuff (inner tube, puncture kit, multi-tool and locks). There are mechanics at some of the stops in case you need them and I think a service van follows the very back of the ride. I’d had my bike serviced earlier in the year so I just gave it a ‘once over’ and oiled it (I think bike shops get really busy ahead of the event).

Clothing

You can pretty much wear what you want. The only thing that’s mandatory is your number. The organisers encourage people to wear a helmet but you don’t have to. You don’t need to wear lycra or ‘outdoor’ clothes either. My favourite sight was parents and kids with matching outfits – especially dads and daughters. It looked like some of the girls had picked the outfits judging by the sheepish men in matching cow patterns or pink swirly cycling jerseys!

I went in a retro tracksuit top – full zip makes it more practical than it might sound. I’m dubious about ‘performance’ clothing and I wasn’t going fast enough to really sweat. My only concession to it was a pair of straight leg cycling trousers with a padded lining for comfort. Not sure if it helped that much but at least I didn’t look like too much of an eejit going to and from the event (no more than usual!). I do like to wear gloves or mitts for grip/comfort (and to prevent ‘road rash’ if I fall and put my hands out). The fastest couple in our group were in their ‘civvies’. It took me a while to figure out that some of the folk in the fanciest gear were amongst the slowest riders.

Getting there

‘There’ being Glasgow Green. Pedal for Scotland provide buses for people coming through from Edinburgh (and transport their bikes). I’ve heard it’s mobbed at the Edinburgh end but I live in Glasgow so that’s literally not my area!

If you arrive in Glasgow by car there’s limited parking around the Green but plenty in the city centre.

Train stations

Hopefully, quiet Sunday morning trains can cope with some extra bikes onboard. I think there are a few extra bike spaces since the Dutch company Abellio took over Scotrail but there probably should be a lot more.

Dalmarnock train station and path
Path looking back to Dalmarnock station

There are plenty of stations near Glasgow Green… Dalmarnock: nearest station with a lift and ‘shared use’ path behind it towards river (Clyde Walkway). Queen St: just along George St to High St then downhill. Glasgow Central: along to Buchanan St then up to Queen St or down towards river. High St: on the route but no lift – go down hill to Green. Bridgeton: also close, no lift but has ‘shared use’ pavement from the back of Bridgeton Cross to the Green.

I live quite near Glasgow Green so I just rode there on the day. I met my group at the People’s Palace quite early on the Sunday morning. However, hundreds of riders had already started and there were hundreds more riding around the Green.

The start

Once it gets closer to your start time, everyone with that slot will funnel between the lines of tape that snake towards the start line. It’s a bit like a supersized version of the queueing system at the post office. The riders leave in ‘waves’/large groups with probably a few hundred in each. It’s quite ‘stop-start’ but moves fairly quickly. Once you get from the grass to the straight bit of the path there’s music and an MC trying to encourage you and tell you who’s up next. Before too long your time slot will get a countdown and you set off. It’s slow at first but once you’re through the McLellan arch onto Saltmarket it opens out and there’s more space.

Glasgow High St traffic sign
View uphill at High St before the event

The rest of my group asked me to join with them at their start time. However, I stayed with my original time slot just after 8AM. I realised afterwards that I maybe could’ve gone at the earlier time – one person out of hundreds wouldn’t make much difference. It meant I was on my own at the start up the High St and through the East End. I had to go a bit quicker than I’d wanted to catch everyone else up at the first rest stop.

On the road

The first section is on wide closed roads but you still have to stop at a few traffic lights. There were open road sections through Coatbridge/Airdrie in 2014 where I felt a bit uncomfortable (some people weren’t paying much attention to cars). I think the route now avoids that bit altogether.

There are all shapes and sizes on Pedal for Scotland. Some shoot past you, never to be seen again (including a few kids!). Others don’t look like they cycle much and you seem to overtake them after every rest stop. The age range goes from small children to senior citizens. There’s a mixture of different bicycles too.

There’s a constant ‘churn’ of people going past each other, at different speeds, so you have to be aware of who’s around you. We settled into a medium pace so we could still chat occasionally. Most of the middle part of the route is on closed or quiet roads where it’s less bunched together and more relaxing.

Rest stops

The rest stops are important as they break up the 40+ miles into three or four stretches of 10–15 miles. That was handy for me as the longest ride I’d gone leading up to the event was about 30 miles. I hadn’t really done any training as such, but I’d done some 20+ mile rides in the past as well as my normal rides to the shops, river, etc. You can spend as long as you like at each rest stop (within reason).

  • Drumpelier Country Park (near Coatbridge): A few marquees with the sponsors products – wee bottles of water, cartons of milk and chocolate biscuits. Also, plenty of bananas – all free. I think there were quick toilet stops at the portaloos then we were off again.
  • Village stop (Slamanan?): The middle stop is a bit different as you could buy some of your food/drink. Slightly bigger tents – think village fete. This was where I saw David Brennan and also a group of Scottish-Asian men in kilts who were riding for charity – I liked their style. One plus point from my previous experience was knowing about the steep wee hill straight after this stop. I knew to change down the gears ahead of it so I could move past while most folk got caught out – same as I did the first time.
  • Linlithgow: This is the main lunch stop – it’s a nice setting next to the loch. It had huge marquees where you queued for free sandwiches, etc. There was also a wee stage with music. We spent the longest at this stop – I think most people do.

There was also an ‘extra’ stop at a leisure centre – I think it was at Kirkliston. Turned out it was the start of the ‘Wee Jaunt’ family ride into Edinburgh. Similar food/drink to the first one. Not sure if they do it now the finish has moved to Ingliston.

Arriving in Edinburgh

Me and my medal at Murrayfield
Some smug guy with a medal at Murrayfield

In 2014, the route went on some paths along old railway lines into Edinburgh. That year the event finished at Murrayfield, including riding into the stadium and along a ‘finishing straight’. Once you went out the other side there was a wee tent where they gave you your goodie bag and medal.

I was quite pleased with my medal even though I wasn’t setting any records. I think it was partly putting the previous time behind me (basically, it’s much easier if you’re not on a heavy 3-speed!). It turns out the saying ‘pride before a fall’ was right. I hooked the goodie bag over my handlebar then my bike fell over in front of a bunch of spectators!

After the event

Pedal for Scotland lay on buses to bring people back to Glasgow. Now the event finishes at Ingliston it’s a bit further if you want to get the train back like I did. Apparently extra trams will be laid on. Alternatively, you could cycle to the nearest station at Edinburgh Gateway (for Fife) or Edinburgh Park (for the west).

I wanted to stay with my bike and couldn’t be bothered waiting for buses. Since the finish was at Murrayfield I decided to go for the train at Haymarket station. This turned out to be the trickiest part of the day as I kept hitting dead-ends on quieter roads. I managed to avoid the tram tracks to get to the station and catch a train back to Glasgow Queen St. Having a folding bike helps with this bit!

Once it was over I could understand both why the ride is a challenge for some people and routine for others. It was a bit too busy for me but well organised considering the number of people. It was good for a Sunday ride where you can relax for most of it and bikes are in the majority. Overall, I wish there were more protected bike lanes around so everyone could have a bit more of that the rest of the year.

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